Native American skeletal remains uncovered at Moss Landing.
Thursday, March 5, 1998
An ongoing dispute over the possible presence of a Native American burial ground on the site of the Moss Landing Marine Lab (MLML) may have been resolved with the recent discovery of Native American bone fragments at the new lab''s proposed construction site.
According to Monterey County Coroner''s Office investigator Jim Miller, several bone fragments were uncovered and were determined to be Native American by the project''s on-site anthropologist.
Miller says his department was initially contacted when bone fragments were first uncovered in Oct. ''97, and most recently on Feb. 23 of this year.
"Our department is contacted when any human bones are found," says Miller, who indicated no intact skeletons were uncovered and that neither the age nor sex of the remains has been determined.
Upon confirmation that the bone fragments were Native American, Miller''s office contacted the Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento to report the find.
Debbie Treadway, an associate government program analyst with the commission, declined to reveal any specific information regarding the find, but confirmed that the bone fragments are Native American. According to Treadway, a commission representative is on the construction site at all times and the commission has followed its policy of contacting what is believed to be the most likely descendant of the site''s original inhabitants to make a recommendation concerning the future disposition of the remains.
That descendant is Esselen Nation member Loretta Wyer, who says the remains will be re-interred at an undisclosed location. As to any further discoveries, Wyer says she has made an open recommendation that anything else that comes up be dealt with on a case by case basis.
The discovery of the Native American remains is the latest wrinkle in the MLML''s drawn-out effort to rebuild the original lab destroyed by the 1989 Loma Prieta ''quake.
The initial proposal to rebuild the lab drew criticism from local environmentalists and Native Americans concerned about the preservation of what they regarded to be the site of a 7,000-year-old Costonoan village.
Lab supporters argued at the time of the proposal there was no certain evidence of Native American claims, and that such claims were being used solely as a tactic to stop the project.
The new MLML is a 60,000-square-foot teaching and research facility to be built on a 23-acre parcel west of Moss Landing Road and north of the Moss Landing cemetery, at a site known as Watertower Hill. Estimated cost for the project is $22 million. The MLML was founded in the 1960s as a marine science department for seven Cal State University campuses.
MLML officials had already re-configured the proposed building site 100 yards away from a midden believed to be located at the site, and didn''t think the recent discoveries would significantly delay the project.
According to Kenneth Coale, acting director of MLML, some ancillary construction work has already commenced, although official on-site groundbreaking has not yet taken place. Coale confirmed that a 24-hour security guard has been placed on duty to keep trophy-hunters away from Native American relics and remains. Coale also says an agreement made with the designated group of Native Americans overseeing site work prohibits MLML from giving out any information about the discovery of remains and relics.
The new MLML is scheduled to be completed about 18 months after ground is broken. Coale says a display of Native American cultural history will be incorporated into the project.
Despite the past controversy surrounding construction of MLML''s new facility, Wyer generally praised MLML officials'' handling of the sensitive issue of protecting Native American sites.
"I always thought [Moss Landing] was a very significant site and there would be encounters, but at this juncture [MLML] has followed state processes and the process is working," says Wyer. "I don''t have any complaints. They have been extraordinarily conscientious and you can''t hope for anything better as a Native American." cw